Today, a bunch of old dorks tackle The Deadly Years (12/08/1967)
Lee joined us on the podcast this time:
This episode, which has the amusing scene where DeForest Kelley refers to Spock as "Sponk," does have its moments even though parts of it don't hold up so well.
I think the whole "horror of aging" thing that goes on here was more effective when I was, well, younger! Today it plays as a lot more silly and full of stereotypes. The way the "aging" (they do point out that this is actually a radiation-caused condition that resembles aging) effects are portrayed in the show are quite over-the-top and almost comically stereotypical. The man they meet on the planet's surface, named "Robert Johnson," acts like an old Jewish caricature of a person we've all seen before in movies or TV. Kirk falls asleep in his chair and forgets about giving orders. McCoy gets extremely crotchety and doubles his usual drawl. Scotty practically looks undead, he's so overly made up. As usual, it's easy to pick on the makeup, but the script has the cast acting like "old people." The writer/director just went a little too far with the old age theme. The actors seem to be trying to portray their characters as they would be decades on, literally. Our physical/mental abilities decline when we get old (well most of us!) but some of the change in people is due to actually living all those years. It affects our personalities and other characteristics and I just don't buy that some kind of radiation sickness would do this, at least not to the effect that is portrayed here. The cast really do try to play it convincingly; DeForest really goes all out.
The other issue I have with this episode is the competency hearing that brings the movement of the plot to a halt. I understand the need to put Kirk on the spot, but the examples of why Kirk should be relieved have already been shown to the audience. It comes off as redundant and as a padding mechanism. The time could have been used better. The shipboard trial had also been used twice before in other episodes and feels a bit too familiar. It's an easy dramatic device they should have avoided this time.
Despite the harping I did on the characters and their "old people" acting, I did find some good character dialogue on display here. The interactions between the main characters are consistent and there is still some warmth here. This helps the episode quite a bit and also provides us with some memorable lines:
McCoy: ""I'm not a magician, Spock. Just an old country doctor."
Sponk: "Yes, as I always suspected."
The scenes with Kirk's former lover, Dr. Wallace, whose presence on board isn't really explained, seem mostly artificial with the exception of a scene where Kirk asks her whether her affection is based on pity or if she just likes old men. The bit where he asks her if she wants a "going away present" is actually pretty harsh, considering him having mere hours left to live. The best thing I read about Dr. Wallace: "Dr. Wallace's costume was made from drapes." Yep!
The Commodore Stocker character is actually not too bad here. He comes off as a sympathetic, if clueless Starfleet bureaucrat. Stocker reminds me a bit of the various military tool general characters you often saw on the MASH tv show. They wrote Stocker to be a bit less of an asshole as other Starfleet superior officers are. Sure, the scene where he sits in Kirk's chair with a deer-in-the-headlights expression is silly, but it gives the follow up scene, Kirk's return to command, all the more triumphant. Kirk is taken down many notches but he gets a super hero-esque return for the climax.
The BD copy I watched looked great, as usual. It's another time where the makeup, the old age effects this time, don't look so great on a high rez screen. There weren't many effects shots in this one, but you do get to see multiple Romulan ships instead of the recycled scenes from "Balance of Terror."
Here's Eric's review:
Upon rewatching "The Deadly Years," I found I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than I remembered. If nothing else, it is a well-done, interesting story. But I also discovered a theme I hadn't previously noticed: while advanced age may limit one's abilities, youth does not necessarily confer ability.
In our podcast, we talk about the shortcomings of this episode--mainly that the courtroom scene appears to be gratuitous filler and that the portrayal of the prematurely aged characters casts the abilities of the elderly in an unfavorable light. Both points are valid, but rather than being shortcomings, they actually support my contention.
To begin with, the courtroom scene is a consequence of the hearing called, over Spock's protest, by Commodore Stocker, the desk-bound paper-pusher with no command experience. Stocker also, subsequently, takes command of the Enterprise. This makes sense from the standpoint that he is far younger and fitter (in terms of actual physical condition) than Kirk. But the fact of the hearing takes time away from the crew's effort to find a cure for the aging effect. And when Stocker assumes command, his actions almost result in the destruction of the Enterprise. So the courtroom scene demonstrates that Stocker's relative youth does not give him the ability to command a starship (even if he does hold flag rank), and it sets up the definitive illustration of this point--his botched battle with the Romulans.
Further, it is simple fact that a person's physical and mental abilities deteriorate with advancing age. Suggesting otherwise would relegated this episode to little more than farce, so the increasing difficulties we see in the affected characters has to be shown for the premise of the story to be believable. The vindication, however, comes when it is "old" Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, rather than the comparatively youthful Dr. Wallace, who figure out how to cure the aging illness.
So "The Deadly Years" really is not an investigation of the issues the elderly face. Rather, it is a story about the fallibilities of youth told through a look at the consequences of aging.
Next time: "Obsession"